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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=52958&mador=3

Wednesday, August 4, 1999

Wye must be implemented

Ha'aretz Editorial

In recent days new tension has seeped into Israel's relations with the Palestinian Authority. The primary reason for this is Prime Minister Ehud Barak's initiative to change the timetable for the withdrawals mandated by the Wye agreement. He prefers to move the third stage of the second withdrawal to the final status agreement. His arguments in favor of this are not trivial. Their essence is the fear that implementing the withdrawal now will impede the talks on the final status agreement, because of the friction that will be created on the ground. For its part, the PA is currently standing firm on implementation as agreed upon in the Wye documents.

Because of this dispute, the atmosphere has become clouded in regrettable fashion. In his eagerness to push the postponement initiative, the prime minister used language that riled the Palestinian side. In an implied threat, he said several times that opposition to his proposal would have a negative effect on reaching a final status agreement. In a tone that was perceived as arrogant, he went on to say that the Palestinians do not understand how good his plan is for them. From the other side came harsh responses, some of them exaggerated. The suspicion that Israel is trying to avoid implementing signed agreements has depressed the positive spirit Barak was trying to introduce.

Barak assumes that postponing the rest of the withdrawals by about six months will bring them more or less in line with the end of talks on the final status agreement. However, on several occasions it has been shown that such target dates cannot be trusted. Too much time has been wasted by prolonged hitches in implementing peace agreements. Under the Oslo agreements, three months ago exactly - on May 4 - talks on the final status agreement were to have been completed. The prime minister himself prefers to relate flexibly to target dates, as he made clear with regard to the time he allotted - 15 months - for obtaining a breakthrough in the peace process. New postponements only further burden what still needs to be accomplished.

The prime minister's arguments are also problematic in another respect. They assume that implementation of the withdrawals according to schedule will stir up opposition in the territories, and thus impede the continuation of the process. Such a dire prognostication of blood, sweat and tears could function as a brake on progress and become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Originally, of course, it was intended as a spur to achieving the goal despite the obstacles along the route. The Jewish settlers know that their fate has been determined: Israel is prepared for comprehensive agreements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Fear of their reaction must not guide the conduct of Israeli policy.

Barak's initiative is legitimate, but it must not be made into a bone of contention and a source of mutual suspicion. Both sides must find the patience and the inspiration to conduct a dialogue without the verbal aggression that has been evident recently. Complete implementation of the Wye agreement, with all its advantages and its flaws, is the prologue to the stage of the final status agreement - the most complex chapter in the history of the conflict. It will, of course, demand a staunch defense of Israel's paramount interests. To the same extent, there will be a need for wisdom, restraint and sensitivity to the needs of the other side - on both sides of the table.

 

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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